Rather than using a play’s intermission for checking text messages or waiting in long bathroom lines, Richie’s audience members are instead invited to dance with the cast and crew under electric strobe lights at The Bar Durham, a local LGBTQ hotspot. Produced by Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern, Richie reimagines Shakespeare’s Richard II as a present-day wealthy clan of hard-partying girls, with the fierce Richie as ringleader. But Richie’s high title of ‘Host’ is threatened by her ambitious cousin, Haley Bolingbroke, who wants to overthrow Richie as queen bee.
Jay O’Berski, the play’s director and assistant professor of Theater Studies, takes the adaptation further with an all-female cast, a choice equally inspired by his friendship with local actresses and pop culture.
“We have so many great actresses…I chose Richard II because I wanted a play that would adapt well to a female cast,” O’Berski said. “When I think of a spoiled king with money today, I think of celebrities like Paris Hilton and Lindsay Lohan.”
The majority of Richie’s cast are former colleagues of O’Berski’s, including his wife Dana Marks in the title role. A few characters are even played by Duke students whom O’Berski has taught.
To augment the craziness of Richie’s lifestyle, the play is staged as a pub crawl– the action of the play progresses through fifteen different locations in downtown Durham, five of which are outside.
Originally, the play didn’t have a venue, which could have posed a problem for the cast and crew, but they soon conceptualized a bevy of fitting downtown Durham locations to depict the night life of Richie and her party girls; the sets were already built, and they didn’t need to buy or build props for the production.
During the play all of the venues are still open for business, allowing the audience an interactive experience unattainable in staged theater plays. When Richie and her besties – Funbags, Finchy and Bushy – are ordering drinks from the bar, so can the audience.
O’Berski describes the production as promenade theatre, a type of staging popular in medieval times when there were no formal theater houses.
“Whenever you do promenade theatre it makes it that much more interesting because the terrain is always changing,” O’Berski explained. “It’s so cool to kind of confuse, surprise, and scare people.”
During the climax of the play the audience is positioned in the middle of a Western showdown between Richie and Bolingbroke. Richie and her clique are silhouetted by the moon and scattered streetlights, situated at the top of a hill overlooking Bolingbroke and the audience; the anticipation is palpable.
“I was holding my breath during their entire descent down the hill; I’m sure I had goose bumps,” said Michelle Anumba, a senior at Duke who attended the play on Saturday. “If this were a movie, I would be screaming, ‘master cinematography!’”
“It’s incredible that you don’t have to spend any money to get that effect,” O’Berski said.
The costume design is as memorable as the performance itself. O’Berski originally saw the play’s costumes at a fashion show in July that showcased the work of many Durham designers. None of the costumes used in the play were off-the-rack; many were found in local boutiques while other were commissioned by O’Berski. As a result, eight of the actors’ costumes were designed specifically for each of their characters.
“There were some collaborative ideas between what the costume designers saw and the actors wanted,” said Richie project manager Jessica Fuller. Kala Wolfe, the play’s costume designer, had the final decision in establishing a retro-meets-modern aesthetic.
Although there were scattered showers during Saturday’s performance, the rain hardly detracted from enjoyment of the show. In fact, the weather added authenticity to many of the scenes where emotions were running high.
“It’s kind of fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants…and there’s a lack of control with the weather and everything,” Fuller admitted. “You have to have a lot of faith in your actors.”
Little Green Pig Theatrical Concern presents Richie September 13-15 and September 20-22. The pub crawl starts at Fullsteam Brewery at 7:30 p.m.